I’m about to be a little cheesy.
There’s a book that I read every year, either at first snowfall or over Christmas. And since we had that little blizzard on Saturday, it’s time for . . . Winter Dreams, Christmas Love by Mary Francis Shura. It has a heart with “romance” in it on the spine. Cheesy, right? But I just kind of love it, because actually, the story is not as sappy as you’d imagine.
This book was, I think, one of my last Scholastic book club purchases in the seventh grade. (Yes, I continued to order books long after it was cool. I don’t understand how people could resist the siren call of those paper fliers!) Come on, what 12-year-old girl is going to pass this cover up? Right?
And it’s exactly the right story for a shy 12-year-old, too. Ellen is a normal 14-year-old girl just starting high school, and she falls hard for Michael, the guy–a junior–that every girl falls for. We follow her for three years as she deals with high school and her unrequited crush. Of course, at the end, Ellen finds out that Michael had fallen just as hard for her, and they get together. It warms your mushy heart, doesn’t it? Discovering the boy you’ve been crushing on does, in fact, like you back just as much is what everyone wants in high school (or, let’s face it, far beyond high school).
But Ellen’s crush isn’t easy on her. It actually sucks pretty bad. When I was in seventh grade, the YA section of our Waldenbooks was filled with mostly Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine or really, really cheesy romances. So despite the cheeserific title, Winter Dreams, Christmas Love seemed refreshingly real. After realizing she loves Michael, Ellen thinks, “She’d seen a lot of movies, read a lot of romances. She had thought love was supposed to be stars in your eyes and joy that made you feel like dancing. She didn’t feel like dancing. Her chest ached and she felt cold. She clasped her arms across her chest and held her breath to keep from crying. If love hurt this much, she didn’t want any part of it.” Love is the exact opposite of rainbows and unicorns for Ellen, and it’s the first book I read back then that showed it that way.
There are flaws in the book, to be sure. The characters often sound oddly old-fashioned for something written in the ’90s. The chronology of the scenes doesn’t always totally fit. But neither of those stuck out to me the first few times I read it back in the day; it’s something that I’ve only noticed because of my repeated yearly reading. When I was 12, I was caught up in Ellen’s struggle. She also has wonderful friends–which has always been a draw for me in a story–and a warm family. And her crush on Michael develops into a lovely friendship, too, despite the way the unrequited love hurts her. “They were friends who loved each other,” it says at the end, “and they had all the time in the world to see what came of that.”
Yeah, it still gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.